The 100th anniversary of Oak Hill High School’s first football season will be celebrated this Friday at John P. Duda Stadium.
On Oct. 1 prior to the Red Devils’ home game against Cabell Midland, former players and coaches are asked to be at Duda Stadium and meet at the team entrance by 6:15 p.m. in order to be recognized prior to the game. Among those expected to be present Friday are Tom Mason and Jason Blankenship, both whom are former players and head coaches in the program.
The school’s first game in 1921 was a 55-0 defeat of Ansted. Carl G. Eads, the first coach, guided the team to a 4-4 record in its initial campaign.
During the Oak Hill/Collins High history, there had been 23 head coaches and a total of 35 first-team all-state players prior to this season.
Ahead of this year, the Red Devils had 491 total wins in program history, which was good for 28th among active programs in the state and 31st in all-time programs.
Mason, 81, a member of the Collins High Class of 1958 who was a lineman for Coach John Duda with the Red Devils, holds fond memories. Collins/Oak Hill football specifically — and school athletics in general — means “all the world” to Mason. “It just means a lot.
“I’ve been a loyal person ever since I can remember. I go back to my grade school days and remember the first Oak Hill-Stonewall Jackson game I remember viewing, where they had a big fight.”
That contest occurred on the old Central Avenue field in Oak Hill in 1946, and the two teams never resumed their football series.
“There’s been some good times, and I’ve seen some bad,” said Mason, who was the team’s head coach from 1975 to 1994, succeeding Carrol Bumgarner at the helm. One of his favorite memories “going way back was when Oak Hill played Parkersburg in the state championship in 1950.” A setback to the Big Reds left Oak Hill, led by head coach Bill Moore and assistant coach John Duda, with a 10-1 overall record that year. “And Avis Partain came along, and what a great guy, something else,” said Mason.
“One of the biggest victories that comes to my mind was when Buckhannon came down here No. 1 in the state and we beat ‘em down here,” added Mason. “Just the relationships I’ve made with these former players, and ... remembering the relationships I’ve made with the boys and former coaches throughout the state.”
“Hope to see a victory Friday night, and that would be over a great team,” Mason said. “I hope to see a good turnout.” He said he’d also like to see Fayetteville and Mount Hope players and coaches involved, too.
Blankenship, a 2003 OHHS graduate, was a two-time (2001 and 2002) first-team all-state linebacker for coach Jim Martin at Oak Hill. He went on to a four-year career at Concord University.
He was the Oak Hill head coach from 2014 to 2019, leading the 2018 team to the playoffs.
“I think it’s, like Coach said, the relationships and the opportunities that coaching and playing here presented,” Blankenship said of his time with the Red Devils both on the field and on the sidelines. “One of my main goals as a coach was to help young guys create memories so they can tell old football stories like we do. Of course, those stories get bigger and better every year. If I can help them create some stories and be a part of some of those, that was fun for me.
“I started out as the water boy in 1998 as an eighth-grader and made it all the way to the head coach, and so it’s just a good story and something that can motivate some of the younger guys.”
From his days wearing the Red Devil uniform, Blankenship recalled, “As a player, just recently with the passing of Ben Thornton of James Monroe, that was the first game I got to start at Oak Hill High School, a freshman and getting to play against them. And going to the playoffs and playing some of the great teams from Poca and Bluefield, those were fun.
“And as coach, getting us back into the playoffs for only the ninth time in school history, so that was cool to be part of that and to make a little run there. Just all the great kids and coaches I got to be with.”
Mason (1995) and Blankenship (2018) are both members of the Red Devil Sports Hall of Fame of Collins and Oak Hill High.
David Gorby, a current OHHS assistant coach spearheading the Friday activities, said he hopes former players and coaches attend, take part in the festivities and are recognized by the Red Devil faithful. “Hopefully, they can come out during the fight song,” he said. “And the former coaches (will come) out for the coin toss.” “They might dispute who’s going to flip the coin,” he said with a laugh. “We’re just wanting to recognize this centennial occasion.
“The more the merrier.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe